Gary Coleman proves how easily child stars can fall into depression in adulthood. “I try to make fun of myself and let people know that I’m a human being, and these things that have happened to me are real. I’m not just some cartoon who exists and suddenly doesn’t exist,” Gary revealed. Beset with health problems, untrustworthy adults, and a host of other personal problems, Gary didn’t have an easy personal life. Most people have no idea about everything he endured.

Gary born on February 8, 1968, in Zion, Illinois. His parents W.G. Coleman, a pharmaceutical representative, and Edmonia Sue, a nurse practitioner, adopted him when he was an infant. But they soon realized something wasn’t right.

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He was born with a variety of health complications, like nephritis, a kidney defect. This meant a lifetime of dialysis and surgical interventions. At five and again at 17, Gary had two separate kidney transplants.

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The most visible effect of Gary’s illnesses was his height. His growth was stunted and slowed, leaving him much smaller than his peers. He only grew to 4 feet 8 inches. This unique characteristic would help the start of Gary’s Hollywood career.

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When he was only nine, legendary TV producer Norman Lear discovered Gary. He was casting an updated Little Rascals series and saw Gary’s potential. This project fell through, but it was the start of a productive partnership for the two.

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Gary was getting cast in roles for characters who were half his age. In 1978, he joined a sitcom called Diff’rent Strokes, where he played Arnold Jackson. Arnold was an orphan adopted into a rich white family — Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain) and Kimberly Drummond (Dana Plato.)

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Diff’rent Strokes rocketed in popularity along with Gary, Dana, and their third co-star Todd Bridges. Gary was the breakout performer, though. His catchphrase, “What’choo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” was everywhere in the ’80s.

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Gary translated his TV celebrity status into movie roles. He was in On the Right Track (1981) and The Kid With the Broken Halo (1982). The latter was a made-for-TV movie that was later adapted into the cartoon series, The Gary Coleman Show.

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When he was only 10, he founded Gary Coleman Productions. This company helped manage his career. His parents were paid members of the company and were officially titled as full-time managers for their son. Could these good times keep up forever?

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As the next few years passed, Gary began to tire of Diff’rent Strokes. He admitted that he wanted the show to end in 1985 when the sitcom went to ABC. The show was cancelled amidst some controversy in 1986.

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Gary claimed Diff’rent Strokes ended because of its poor ratings, but Todd explains it in a slightly different way. He claims production on the show was stalled because Todd’s agents couldn’t reach an agreement about Gary’s salary.

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Gary’s career rapidly deteriorated. He wasn’t concerned though. Because of Gary Coleman Productions and a trust fund, he should have been set with at least $18 million. But when an 18-year-old Gary checked his account, this wasn’t the balance.

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Instead of $18 million, he only possessed $220,000. Even now, it’s not entirely clear where all of Gary’s fortune went. It’s likely that his parents and agent spent his money. When Gary sued the three of them, that’s what a judge thought, too.

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After a brutal battle, Gary was only awarded $3.8 million. Most of this money went to his lawyers for exorbitant court fees. This was a low for Gary. He fell into a deep depression and attempted suicide multiple times. 

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Gary decided to semi-retire from acting. He worked as a security guard until filing for bankruptcy in 1999. In the meantime, he cameoed on shows like Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Married with Children, and The Keenen Ivory Wayans Show.

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Gary’s temper was the dark side of his otherwise bubbly personality. In 1998, he punched a woman who asked for his autograph in the face and had to pay her hospital bills. This wouldn’t be the final time Gary attacked a woman.

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In 2007, Gary was arrested for disorderly conducted with his girlfriend, Shannon Price. The couple wed in August of the same year, and in 2008 the two went on the TV program Divorce Court to publicly settle their issues.

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Gary and Shannon remained married after Divorce Court. It wouldn’t be long before their issues would again escalate — both were charged with disorderly conduct again. And in 2010, Gary was charged with domestic violence.

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The beginning of the end for Gary was 2010. While he worked on The Insider in February that year, he had a seizure onset. In May, he fell at home and went to the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, Utah.

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Two days later, Gary had an intracranial hemorrhage and died at 42. When he fell into the coma, Shannon forced the care team to remove Gary’s life support only after a day of his unresponsiveness. Gary had a living will that ordered he should be kept alive for 15 days.

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Gary’s life was abrupt. The closest people to him treated him terribly and in return, Gary put all of his rage and frustration in his relationships with other women. In the end, his congenital health issues took his life unexpectedly. If only he’d been able to follow the example of the world’s greatest child star.

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Back in the days of the Great Depression, American audiences wanted to watch something wholesome and sweet that’d take their minds off problems like economic collapse, inflation, and hunger. Shirley Temple’s sunny disposition was just the solution.

Shirley had been taking dance lessons from the age of 3. Skilled in tap, rumba, and even tango, she was a bright, personable child and could memorize lines easily. When talent scouts came calling, she was ready.

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20th Century Fox set up a brand for Shirley that emphasized her qualities as an “emotional healer” or “good fairy.” In her movies, she played characters that brought others together despite their differences — laying the foundation for her later career.

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Wherever she went, people would clamor over her. “They like the work you do,” her mother said, putting a practical lens on the fame and giving young Shirley an appreciation for the effects of her actions.

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In her Hollywood heyday, she constantly attended events where political figures were present. Temple learned how to navigate their social world, although it took some practice: when she was ten, she fired a slingshot at Eleanor Roosevelt’s backside!

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As Shirley got into her teens, Hollywood began to tire her, and she looked for a new adventure. Her mother saw the opportunity to enroll her in a private, all-girls’ school, which Shirley adored: after an isolated childhood, being around girls her age interested her far more than movie sets.

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Meanwhile, Shirley’s widespread fame began to fade. The Depression was over, and she was growing out of the sparkly-eyed innocence that had captivated the nation. She slowed down to making only one or two movies per year — but she had new goals on the horizon.

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While at Westlake School, Shirley became obsessed with the idea of romance, and had a number of beaus. “I wanted to be the first girl in my class to get married,” she said. Her caring disposition hadn’t left her; she couldn’t wait to raise a family.

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By the time Shirley was 17, she had her sights — and a wedding date — set. On September 19, 1945, she wed high school beau John Agar in a highly-publicized ceremony at Wilshire Methodist Church in Los Angeles.

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The wedding was everything Shirley had dreamed, but the reality of marriage was not. Just ten days into their honeymoon, John began drinking heavily and was about to be sent overseas as a U.S. Army sergeant.

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Over the next four years, John’s drinking got worse, and though the couple had a daughter together, their relationship soured beyond repair. In 1949, when she was 21, Shirley demanded a divorce.

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At the same time, Shirley’s rank as box office #1 had been usurped by Mickey Rooney. She was no longer seen as a little girl: her contract with Fox was terminated, and in a contract meeting with MGM, the hiring producer exposed himself to her.

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Shirley decided it was time for a change. She announced her retirement from the film industry, won custody of Linda Susan — her and John’s daughter — and took her immediate family on a vacation to Hawaii.

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It was on that vacation, at a moment when she was “against men,” that Shirley fell in love. She saw naval officer Charles Black across a room; he didn’t know who she was, but described her as “a very unusual comet flying through my sky.” They began dating immediately.

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Ten months later, Charles and Shirley were married, and moved to D.C. to be closer to Charles’s new job as a commander at the Pentagon. Ever a forward-thinking force, Shirley found herself drawn to Washington’s political community. “You want to know more… to do more,” she said.

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And do more she did. Shirley’s young political hobnobbing had prepared her to get involved. Calling herself a “citizen politician,” she gave her time to the League of Women Voters, fundraised for various organizations, and befriended Eisenhower’s joint chiefs of staff.

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Shirley even ran for Congress, when a seat opened up in the California district where she and Charles eventually moved. She garnered 34,000 votes and came in second out of 12 candidates, catching President Nixon’s attention.

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Nixon appointed her to a delegation for the 1969 U.N. General Assembly, where she spoke about issues like environmental protection, refugee rights, and aiding the elderly. She would later be named the U.S. ambassador to both Ghana and Czechoslovakia.

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Until she passed away in 2014, Shirley Temple Black continued operating in the State Department. She received the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors, was named an honorary U.S. Foreign Service officer, and was given the SAG Life Achievement Award.

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Whether it was her early career bringing joy to viewers or her later political work, Shirley had a knack for helping people. “I like a life in public service,” she said. “The pay’s lousy, but other rewards — personal rewards — are great.”

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